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I’d say “hey” if I knew him a little better.
But I do know how he drenches his waffles in syrup, (he refuses to eat pancakes- too flat.) Because if he hated anything, it was running out of syrup before he was finished.
And I remember that one time I walked in the kitchen and there he was, hanging over the counter with bits of ham dangling out of his nose, and eggs waggling on top of his head. Children laughing, spewing orange juice all over their mothers. You know, we almost got fired for that. He looked up at me, told me it would be worth it, (the first words he ever spoke to me,) and began fingering the bits of meat out of his nostrils, which was gross, but cute, in a way.
When he’s cleaning the dishes he always has ear buds in, bobbing his head to the beat. I want to ask him what type of music he likes, but he looks so happy, even with his hands elbow deep in grease and half-eaten food. I just let him work.
While taking out the garbage, he swings it around like a caveman with a club. Once there was a hole punctured in the bag and it burst everywhere. I expected him to cry out, wielding his fists in anger, but he calmly cleaned it up, disposed of it, and washed his hands for about ten minutes. As he pumped the soap, he just stared in the cracked mirror as if he couldn’t believe where he was, how his life was turning out. Or maybe it was because he couldn’t believe someone threw out the cook’s specialty Mickey -Mouse shaped pancakes.
And when there was no one in the café, and the thunder blared while the radio whistled a broken tune, he mopped the floor. In fact, every time there’s a storm he mops the floor and he’s careful not to get the suds on people’s shoes, even when they track dirt in. If it makes a difference, I always wipe my feet on the WELCOME mat.
I don’t know if he knows this, but we live in the same apartment. I can hear his parents screaming at him, at each other, through the thin, plaster walls and every morning he’s at the café earliest, sitting at one of the tables filling out college applications. He tells the cook he’s glad he finished high school, but he says he can’t understand why he keeps getting rejected. He’s said that four times today. And he left his coffee on the table. He didn’t even take a sip…
Then he got another rejection letter from another college and no one could find him. When it was time to go home, I bundled up in my jacket and headed out; spotting him on the roof of the little café, squatting behind the busted neon sign. I went back in and climbed up the old ladder, shivering in the cold.
The butt of his cigarette glowed orange as he took another drag, his cloud of breath mixing with the smoke. Shaking, I sat down right beside him and he offered me a cig, which I promptly refused, but I asked what kind of music he liked.
“Everything,” he said, staring at the gray bits of snow flurrying in the sky.
I waited for him to look at me and I could see that hurt, that desperation in his eyes, so I held his gaze and said, “hey.”
He smiled, “hey.”